The Assembly Appropriations Committee on Wednesday advanced a bill removing mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for official misconduct and a slew of non-violent drug and property crimes over objections from two of its Republican members.
The panel cleared the bill 7-2. Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera (D-Blackwood) abstained. Assemblyman Antwan McClellan (R-Ocean City), the panel’s third Republican, voted in the bill’s favor.
The bill largely resembles a previous measure that, on the recommendation of the New Jersey Sentencing and Criminal Disposition Commission, eliminated minimum sentencing for crimes like possession and burglary, among others.
That proposal saw its path through the legislature upended after State Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-North Bergen) amended it to include official misconduct.
The original bill’s sponsors, State Sens. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden), Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City) and Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez (D-Perth Amboy), each said, at the time, they did not know who was responsible for the amendment.
Politico New Jersey later reported Walter Somick, the son of Sacco’s longtime girlfriend, faced an official misconduct charge.
Lopez has since backed away from the bill, but Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D-Bayonne) has taken up the mantle of sponsor.
Wednesday’s movement saw significant opposition from Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-Denville), who voted for the first bill before official misconduct was added to the list of crimes that would see their sentencing guidelines changed.
“How can you possibly vote yes on something like this where you’re legislating protection for yourself? It’s not good business, and people who violate the public trust in an official capacity should be punished, and it should be inescapable that they get punished and they shouldn’t be allowed to have a buddy they appointed or something get them out of it,” he said before voting no. “This is a gross abuse of our power here.”
Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris Plains) issued a similar warning. Speaking figuratively, he said too many of their colleagues had left the statehouse “in handcuffs.”
Advocates who have long opposed mandatory minimums have urged lawmakers to advance the proposal despite the inclusion of official misconduct, which was not recommended by the commission.
The harm done by mandatory minimums for crimes like possession, they said, needed to be remedied, even with an imperfect bill.
The bill cleared the Senate in a 23-14 vote on Monday, and it’s poised to clear the Assembly as well.
But Gov. Phil Murphy railed against the inclusion of official misconduct in the original bill and has signaled he would oppose the new measure, though he declined to comment on it directly.